It had promised to be an evening of fun and camaraderie for three students of the Lagos State Polytechnic when on Sunday, September 19, 2021, they took a car ride from Ikorodu, heading for Surelere. Oghenetejiri Walter, Motunrayo Ajetunmobi and Augustine Egwu were ecstatic as their journey progressed as planned.
Their destination was a restaurant in the heart of Lagos serving some special kind of ofada rice with sauce. Walter, who never had a taste of ofada rice before, had exciting ideas in her head. On getting to Ojuelegba, and in a sudden odd moment, the course of the evening changed and they were staring death in the face. Out of the blue, a 40-foot container got dislodged from a truck and fell on the cab they were riding in, crushing it in an instant and trapping them in the wreckage.
“I saw the way the thing (container) was coming down, and all I could do was tilt backward as if I wanted to dodge the container from falling on me.
“While I was doing that, I kept shouting ‘Jesus!’ till the container fell on the car and we heard the sound of the fall and the crumbling of the vehicle. It sounded like a nylon or egg shell being squeezed,” Walter recounted to Sunday Reportr Door.
Seeing as they were immediately enveloped by darkness and confusion, Walter said, “We kept shouting ‘Help! Help!! We are alive’. So, we heard people saying, ‘They are alive. Hold on! Help is on the way.’
“My friend, Motunrayo, was saying, ‘T.J, is this how we will die?’(But) I told her not to worry, to hold on, that we would not die and we would be rescued, seeing that people were already trying to get us help.”
But that initial hope began to give way to despair when two hours had passed and the expected help did not come.
“The people there tried their best to bring us out but they couldn’t do anything until the emergency service came about two hours later. The accident happened around 6.30 pm-7 pm. We were trapped under the container till about 9 pm-9.30 pm when we were eventually rescued,” Motunrayo corroborated.
The friends recalled that the long moments of waiting for help were marked by intense anxiety and ebbing hope of survival.
Walter said, “We could talk well at first. In fact, I could recall telling everyone not to move because the more we attempted to move, the more we hurt our bones. My neck was on Motunrayo’s leg and as she was trying to remove her leg, I was choking.
“Soon, it became difficult for us to breathe as air wasn’t really coming in. I remember telling others that we should open our mouths so that air could come in. Later, we all started gasping for breath. We could not breathe. God did a wonder; that’s all I can say because every time I felt like I was giving up, it looked like someone did a cardiopulmonary resuscitation on me and I came back to life.
“By the time the container was eventually removed, I was already tired. I could no longer breathe well. Just before then, I had concluded that I had held on for long enough. My hands dropped like I was surrendering. In like two seconds, I came alive again. Even my friend Motunrayo was also going (dying). At some point, she couldn’t respond as we called her name.”
The three friends and the cab driver described their survival as a miracle, thanking God for saving them from death, in a country where emergency services for accident victims are slow in coming, when not totally unresponsive.
But unlike them, 96 air travellers on a trip from Abuja to Sokoto perished on October 29, 2006, when the aircraft crashed within minutes of takeoff.
A survivor of the ill-fated ADC Airlines flight, Peter Onuka, said that had help come on time, all or most of the passengers would have survived because it took about one hour after the aircraft crashed-landed before it finally exploded, incinerating the occupants.
Instructively, the weather was poor and the flight was initially delayed for 30 minutes before it was cleared to proceed. Onuka said the plane crashed just shortly after it took off.
“It was a sharp descent, so I closed my eyes at that point and the next thing was that we landed in a bush and instantly the plane went up and came down the second time and split at the wings section. The front part, where the tyres were, kept going till it hit a big tree which finally halted it.
“Myself and others who survived were at the tail end of the plane and we were the only survivors. Everyone on the front end didn’t make it. If help came almost immediately, I strongly believe that a lot more people would have survived. People didn’t die instantly but they were in pain and couldn’t get up until death came. I, too, couldn’t get up instantly,” Onuka said.
Recalling how he and the five other survivors were rescued, Onuka said one of the passengers from his end of the plane was able to get up and started shouting for help, which attracted the villagers nearby.
“When we came out, I told the villagers and everyone else that we should go far from the plane, because it would likely explode. So, we moved away. Within minutes, it exploded and that was what actually killed virtually everyone who was not rescued at that time. It took about one hour or so before help came from the airport or so,” he recalled.
Nigeria’s 1.2 million yearly preventable deaths
Many accident victims in Nigeria would have survived but for the slow response of emergency services. From lack of adequate equipment to poor road network and shortage of personnel, emergency service in Nigeria is tragically inefficient.
Emergency Response Africa, a non-governmental organisation dedicated to the rescue of accident victims, said Nigeria loses over 1.2 million lives every year to preventable deaths, resulting from accidents and illnesses.
Data from the website of the Federal Road Safety Commission showed that in the first quarter of 2022, Nigeria recorded 3,345 road crashes. About 10, 294 of the victims were injured while 1,834 lost their lives.
In the second quarter of the year, according to FRSC data, the country recorded 3,282 road crashes, claiming 1,538 lives while 9,146 people were injured.
In the first three quarters of 2021, the country recorded 9,620 crashes, leaving 27,902 persons injured and claiming 4,553 lives.
These figures may be higher because not all accident cases get reported, coupled with Nigeria’s poor data and inefficient record keeping.
The World Health Organisation ranked Nigeria 191 out of 192 countries in the world with unsafe roads, at 162 death rate per 100,000 population from road traffic accidents.
Canada-based Chief Executive Officer of ERA, Folake Owodunni, told Sunday Reportr Door that many of the accident victims would survive had the country had an efficient emergency response system.
Owodunni said unlike in Nigeria where accident victims wait interminably to get rescued – if it comes at all – the emergency response time in Canada is nine minutes or less.
In the United States of America, emergency response time is seven minutes on the average. It can be up to 14 minutes in rural settings, according to the Medical News Bulletin.
The Disaster Management Officer, Nigerian Red Cross, Lagos office, Mr. Oladimeji Ige, told Sunday Reportr Door that the standard emergency response time is between five and 10 minutes.
Ige, however, said the poor state of many roads in Nigeria, coupled with heavy gridlock, especially in Nigeria’s commercial nerve centre, Lagos, and other major cities, lead to delays in response by emergency responders.
“When an emergency happens and people are to respond to save the lives of the victims, the golden hour is not met because the rescue operators have challenges navigating the traffic,” Ige said.
Lamenting the situation, ERA CEO, Owodunni, said, “Every year, more than 1.2 million Nigerians die from sudden illnesses and accidents. These deaths are preventable with effective emergency response. Unfortunately, Nigeria, like many countries across Africa, does not have a strong emergency medical system.”
She said this worrying trend was the motivation for the founding of ERA.
Saved by UK’s efficient emergency services
United Kingdom-based author of ‘Impact: My Story, My Ebenezer, My Victory’, Mrs. Ronke Joseph, believes she could have died if a road accident in London on January 13, 2015, which cost her one leg, had happened in Nigeria.
Joseph, who spoke with Sunday Reportr Door, recalled how a driver suffering an epilepsy lost control of his car and knocked her down near Shoreditch High Street Railway Station, London.
She recalled, “The car hit me and I flew backward onto an upright closed-circuit television pole. I was very distressed and was shouting for pedestrians to call my husband. Many of the pedestrians came to my aid and got me to lie down, while others called for an ambulance. Within five to 10 minutes, an ambulance arrived and the paramedics started attending to me.”
According to her, London’s Air Ambulance, which attends to serious emergency cases like hers, usually has attached to it “one or two doctors, a paramedic and equipment that allows them to bring the hospital to the patient.”
Joseph said, “The presence of all the necessary agencies on the day of my accident was key to my survival. Within minutes, the ambulance service arrived. I was anaesthetised at the roadside and taken to the closest hospital as soon as they had stabilised me.
“As soon as I got to hospital, I was rushed straight in to do a CT (Computerised Tomography) scan to see if I had any other internal injury. While this was going on, four consultants were deciding what the next course of action should be. Once they decided, I was operated on and then I spent six weeks in the hospital and seven weeks in rehab, where I did intense physiotherapy.”
She stressed that for all the timely and comprehensive treatment, she didn’t spend a dime out of her pocket.
She added, “While I was in rehabilitation, I got my prosthetic leg. All of these were done without a penny coming out of my pocket. The health care system in the UK is funded by what is called the National Insurance Contributions. It is a percentage taken out of the salaries of everyone who works in the UK and it is properly managed, so it is available when needed and used to properly maintain the hospitals, their equipment and pay the medical personnel.”
Nigeria’s pathetic case
A schoolteacher in Bauchi State, Mrs. Diana Esky, believes her 24-year-old architecture graduate son, Matui Esky, would be alive today if he got a quick emergency response after he had an accident on his way to the National Youth Service Corps orientation camp in Katsina State late 2021.
According to her, Matui bled to death on the floor of the General Hospital in Dutse, Jigawa State where he was rushed to.
The news of the accident was broken by Matui’s friend who was in the same vehicle but survived the accident.
That friend had telephoned two other friends, who in turn went to Matui’s parents’ house to inform them.
Recounting how she received the news, Esky said, “I asked, ‘Has he died?’ They said he wasn’t dead but he was unconscious. I told them to open up to me if he was dead, but they said he wasn’t. They called their friend that my son was travelling with to confirm to me that he wasn’t dead. He (the friend) said my son was unconscious. So, I said I would travel down to where the accident happened to see him.
“I set out for Jigawa with one of my neighbours. My neighbour phoned one of her sisters who works in Jigawa and asked her to go to the hospital to see Matui’s condition. While on our way, we kept communicating with my neighbour’s sister.
“When the woman got to the hospital, she told us that my son was still alive but was unconscious. She said my son and the others weren’t getting any medical care. She said they were dumped on the bare floor in the hospital. She told us she saw the driver who had a fracture on his shoulder and it was the driver’s father that brought in someone from outside the hospital to fix the fracture.
“She said my son was left on the bare floor, struggling for life with blood streaming out of his mouth and nose. He was hit on the head during the accident.”
When police don’t help matters
Mrs. Esky continued, “When I heard that, I became restless and troubled, so I began to pray. I was singing and praying at the same time. When we got to Birnin Kudu in Jigawa State, we called that woman again but she sounded low. I told my neighbour to ask her if there was any private hospital around, so she could help me transfer my son there immediately. I said whatever the bill was I would pay. But she told us that the police were involved and they wouldn’t let her move him just like that, because it was the police that brought them (accident victims) to the hospital. At that point, I felt in my mind that something wasn’t right.”
By the time Mrs. Esky arrived at the hospital, Matui had died right on the floor. She was left to arrange for a vehicle to take the body home with her.
Matui’s sad case typifies the cruel fate of many accident victims in Nigeria. The chances of survival are too slim.
When hospitals fail victims
There are many cases of accident victims, who, like Matui, make it to the hospital alive only to bleed to death because hospitals refused to attend to them.
On November 12, 2022, a Good Samaritan Lagos resident, Ayotunde Akinniyi, narrated how he and others rescued two accident victims, Tayo Oyedokun and Taofeek Ajose, and rushed them to a state hospital but were not attended to until Ajose died after hours of waiting and persuasion.
Akinniyi, who spoke to an online newspaper, Foundation for Investigative Journalism, said the victims were rescued on Ikorodu Road, between Palmgrove and Onipanu, where their vehicle was trapped under a container and they were battling for their lives.
“The driver (Oyedokun) had been pulled out of the car before I got to the scene. There were efforts to pull the other guy (Ajose) out, and we succeeded. A police van came with three policemen, and they helped too.’’
He stated that he suggested taking the victims to a hospital and the police accompanied them to the hospital. He further said that before they left for the hospital, they called the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency, but when I realised they might not respond quickly, he took them himself while the police were in their van.
He added, “We got to the hospital between 12:30 am and 12:45 am on Thursday, but the doctors and nurses refused to give first aid to the victims, saying they needed to see their family members, and claiming there was no bed to accommodate them.”
Akinniyi said the victims were not taken out of his car to be attended to until about 3 am – some two hours later, during which they lost a lot of blood and each family had to pay N9,750.
Having lost a lot of blood, Ajose gave up the ghost eventually. Akinniyi recalled that, in his last moments, Ajose was heard pleading with every doctor and nurse in sight, saying, ‘Please do not let me die; I can’t breathe properly.’
Speaking to the nationwide challenge, General Manager, Osun State Ambulance Services, Dr. Olusegun Babatunde, said it was lamentable that sometimes accident victims rescued by his team did not get the needed emergency treatment at hospitals and they ended up dying even in the ambulance.
“We have had patients that died inside the ambulance,” he noted. “Cases where you take a patient to the hospital and the hospital says they don’t have facilities to take care of such a patient and they refer us to a teaching hospital, and along the line, such a patient may die.”
No succour for gunshot victims
In November, the Nigerian Bar Association vowed to sue an Abuja hospital for refusing to treat a lawyer, Stephen Eze, who was shot by suspected assassins.
The NBA stated that the victim was still breathing on arrival at the hospital but was rejected by the medical officers on duty because he had bullet wounds.
The Chairman, NBA Section on Public Interest and Development Law, Mr. Monday Ubani, said the action of the hospital was a violation of the ‘Compulsory Treatment And Care for Victims of Gunshot Act, 2017’, which “outlaws such evil practice of rejecting patients who are shot by any person, including criminals in Nigeria.’’
Ubani, vowing that the NBA would make an example of the hospital, said, “Having failed to uphold the law, which led to Eke’s untimely death, we will faithfully hold the hospital accountable to the law.”
Doctors overstretched, ambulance service needed – NMA
Speaking to Sunday Reportr Door on the issue, the President of the Nigerian Medical Association, Dr. Uche Ojinma, said while it was advisable for hospitals to give accident victims first aid, the reality was the shortage of personnel and facilities such as bed space to accommodate all patients.
He said, “What do you do when there is no bed space? Once there are facilities for the required aid, then it’s advised to be given, hoping there are enough hands to be lent for first aid.”
However, the NMA President said the conversation should shift from expecting overworked doctors to give first aid, to demanding that the government should “fully deploy the National Emergency Medical Services and Ambulance System, which has been on the drawing board forever.
“It’s a shame that we have no Emergency Medical and Ambulance Services. If we do, accident victims do not have to go to a hospital for first aid,” he said.
On why hospitals still reject gunshot victims, Ojinma said, “Who wants a police case? They (the police) pretend that they don’t know about the law empowering doctors to first save the victim then report to police. By the time you are punished for saving a life, you give yourself sense (sic).”
Funding, a problem – Red Cross
The Disaster Management Officer, Nigerian Red Cross, Ige, lamented poor funding, noting that in Lagos, for example, the NRC had only one ambulance.
He said, “If there is an emergency on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, another on Badagry Expressway, and Lekki-Epe Expressway simultaneously, how do we respond?
“The government has a responsibility to support stakeholders in emergency response, especially an organisation like the Red Cross, created by an act of parliament.
“The strength of the Red Cross is huge, we have volunteers in every nook and cranny but we lack adequate facilities.”
Speaking in 2019 in Abuja at an event to commemorate the fifth United Nations Global Road Safety Week, the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, said, “The Federal Government has already provided seed funds for Emergency Medical Treatment which is five per cent of the Basic Health Care Provision Funds. The Accident and Emergency Department of various hospitals and health facilities in the country are also being upgraded to ensure quality care of victims of medical emergencies, including victims of road crashes.” However, today, the reality on the ground speaks differently.
Babatunde, the Osun State Ambulance Services boss, said the way forward would be to “set up a trust fund. The source of money for such a trust fund may even be from individuals because nobody knows who the beneficiary might be.”
He also called for an improvement in the attitude of doctors toward accident victims.
Unrealiable fire service
Beyond the needless loss of lives, Nigeria’s lethargic emergency services have also caused many citizens monumental loss of valuables.
On November 2, 2022, the Executive Chairman, Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership, Debo Adeniran, took to Facebook to lament how a section of his office got razed down, worsened by the poor response from the emergency services in Lagos State.
Adeniran wrote, “I called 112, and they asked for the magnitude of the fire. They asked me how I did know there truly was a fire in my office. They never showed up!”
On November 23, 2022, angry marketers and property owners at Okujaku Slaughter Market in Port Harcourt Rivers State descended on and brutalised a fireman, over the late response of the Federal Fire Service while they watched helplessly as the inferno consumed their multimillion naira assets.
On January 28, 2022, a police inspector in Gombe State, Arastus Dimka, lost his entire house and valuables to a fire incident.
Narrating the incident to Sunday Reportr Door, the policeman said, “They (the fire service) alone can tell what their challenges are and the reasons they arrived very late despite calls by my neighbours. The way they work in the state is not good; they don’t show up until things have gone bad. When they were asked why they came late, they complained that they didn’t have fuel in their vehicle and that there was no driver.”
Between November and December this year, the country has witnessed no fewer than 15 fire incidents, resulting in huge losses.
In Nigeria, both the federal and state governments have fire services, yet residents in many cases do not get timely help.
But the spokesperson for the Federal Fire Service, Mr. Paul Abraham, said the agency was not overwhelmed and its men were up to the task.
“We must separate the Federal Fire Service from state fire services. If they call the Federal Fire Service, our men will turn up. So, we are not overwhelmed,” Abraham told our correspondent.
Similarly, the spokesman for the Lagos State Fire Service, Mr. Jamiu Dosunmu, said in 2022 alone, the agency had responded to over 200 fire outbreaks and had no challenges with equipment or manpower.
“We have 18 fire stations across the five divisions of Lagos State. There are more than 80 fire apparatus in our fleet. With the additional 435 newly recruited officers, the human capacity of the LSFRS is now 1,080, from the previous 600 personnel,” he said.
According to him, “the average response time to a fire and related call by the LSFRS is around 10 minutes.
“These allegations (that we don’t respond to calls) are untrue as there is no time the LSFRS gets a call and does not respond.”
But Adeniran said his experience was at variance with Dosunmu’s claim, noting that while he had no doubt about the capacity of the fire service, the attitude of the personnel left much to be desired.
He explained that the fire incident in his office happened days after the Lagos State government publicly ‘flaunted’ “62 brand new fire apparatus, consisting of fire trucks and support vehicles,” that it just acquired.
Adeniran said, “They didn’t complain about funding; they didn’t complain about logistics or manpower; they are just laid back and lethargic. Basically, there is a lackadaisical attitude on the part of the emergency responders. They don’t respond in cases of armed robbery, fire, flooding. Several complaints point to the fact that those in charge of quick response don’t do it until maximum damage has been done.”
A report titled, ‘Lagos State Ambulance Service: A Performance Evaluation,’ published in the European Journal of Trauma and Emergency Surgery, asserted that between December 2017 and May 2018, “We analysed 1,352 intervention forms. We found that LASAMBUS did not address 53 per cent of the RTA (road traffic accident) calls that they received.”
The pioneer Vice-Chancellor of Ondo State University of Medical Sciences, Prof Friday Okonofua, stated that ambulance services in Nigeria were not properly managed.
He said, “The system in Nigeria is cumbersome. There are countries where helicopters are used as ambulances because they have a quality management system that works. It shouldn’t be an expensive business for us in Nigeria; local governments can afford to purchase ambulances. After all, they buy vehicles of all types.”
“Imagine people taking ambulances to weddings; that’s ridiculous. Management is what is wrong and what we need to actively work on.”
Citizens’ poor response to emergency
A spokesman for the South-West zone of the National Emergency Management Agency, Ibrahim Farinloye, said the rescue of accident victims was a collective effort.
He said the new culture of people taking pictures or making videos of accident scenes rather than helping victims should stop.
Farinloye said, “When an accident occurs, the closest persons to the scene have the civic responsibility to respond. Whoever witnesses an accident and does not act or respond to save lives will be culpable. That is the law.
“By the provision of the NEMA Act, in its sub-section G, you must mobilise resources in response to distress alerts. Anybody caught taking pictures or recording videos at an accident scene instead of saving lives will be held responsible. When you see an emergency case, you must make efforts to contact the next available responder that you have access to.”
Only in November, Mrs. Bianca Ojukwu, took to Facebook to lament citizens’ attitude at an accident scene she ran into on the Ugwu-Onyeama-Enugu Expressway.
According to her, the crash involved a petrol tanker and a commercial bus loaded with passengers.
“No emergency medical response services in sight, not even Road Safety officials,” she lamented.
Giving a graphic description of the scene, Ojukwu said, “Mangled bodies covered in blood were strewn everywhere, people had clustered around the scene and the sight was traumatic. I had to make a split-second decision about whether to move on or to stop. I noticed one of the victims was moving, and requested my drivers to stop.
“I alighted from my vehicle with my aides, including those in my backup vehicles and approached the scene. To my shock and dismay, most of the people standing around there, who just parked their own cars by the side of the expressway, were simply busy with their cellphones taking pictures and making videos of the gruesome incident.’’
She stated that they had to fight many of them to disperse from the scene.
The Osun State Ambulance Services boss lamented that the culture of giving way to ambulances was still abysmally poor among Nigerian motorists.
He said, “Sometimes people don’t really understand what our work entails. Members of the public don’t give way to ambulances in traffic. We should not be in a hurry not to give way to an ambulance on a rescue mission.”
Okonofua however pointed out that the reason people no longer respect ambulances could include its abuse, like people using them to transport hospital staff to social functions.
He said, “While growing up when we heard the sirens of an ambulance, we knew someone was being transported for emergency medical care; but these days, how will an ambulance be prioritised when we do not even know if there is a patient inside? That is the truth. When the government starts managing ambulances properly, we will know they are serious.”
The Disaster Management Officer, Nigerian Red Cross, Lagos office, Ige, called for the inclusion of life-saving skills in the school curriculum.
He added that voluntary organisations, such as Boys Scout and Girls Guide, should be reintroduced towards equipping citizens with skills for helping accident victims.
He noted that creating awareness of what to do in emergency situations from primary to secondary school would go a long way in correcting the anomalies.
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